It is that time of the year again… Phnom Penh citizens leave the city by the thousands and scatter all over the country… But voluntarily… And in a totally different context compared to 40 years ago.
Happy Khmer New Year to all.
Ten of the eleven land rights activists who were in jail after having been arrested on November 11 and 12 2014 have been released from Prey Sar prison today at 3:40 PM, through a Royal Pardon granted for Khmer New Year. That is the surface. The release was negotiated by the opposition CNRP who convinced the ruling CPP to show some goodwill now that the new National Election Committee members took their oath in front of King Sihamoni at the same moment the activists were released.
For what happened before, please refer to ‘HEARTHS OF RESISTANCE’
The following photographs are just a small sample of ‘Hearths of Resistance’, an ebook which focuses on the social and political turmoil during the 18 months after the 2013 legislative elections in Cambodia. With the opposition CNRP gaining a surprising 55 of the 123 seats at the National Assembly, this was the first serious democratic challenge for Prime Minister Hun Sen in some 30 years. Surfing on this success and relying on a pool of disgruntled citizens who suffered land grabbings, on the 600,000 garment factory workers living on insufficient wages and more generally on normal citizens confronted with a daily dosis of corruption and injustice, the CNRP managed to mobilize the masses for 6 months. A violent crackdown by the army on January 3rd of striking workers forced the opposition into a strategy of compromise. The workers and the evicted communities had to rely on their own.
With over 500 photographs and a video, an interactive map, a glossary available through the captions and quotes from protesters giving their definition of the word ‘resistance’, this ebook is an attempt to show the resilience of those who resist the erosion of their human rights.
‘Hearths of Resistance’, an ebook for your iPad or your Apple computer running iBooks is now available on iTunes for less than 7$ at this link.
A review posted on iTunes by those who bought the ebook would be very much appreciated.
As of today, with the inauguration of the bridge over the Mekong at Neak Loeung, the 4 vessels from the ferry service which carried thousands of vehicles every day, will cease to exist. The whole economic structure built around the ferry terminals, with employees, restaurants, gatekeepers, peddlers, beggars, middlemen will have to restructure into something else…
You can find the whole story in the pages of today’s Cambodia Daily’. A short 2-minute video and the photographs are also featured in a long-read format on the Cambodia Daily website.
Michel. Michel Vanden Eeckhoudt… He was my friend. My best friend. I can only hope I was considered by him as his best friend. I will not know. I wouldn’t have known. Because he had this incredible sense of modesty we’d only rarely talk about private issues. They were just mentioned, sort of inadvertently… We’d mostly talk about photography, ever since we followed a photography course at ‘La Cambre’, the fine arts school where we met for the first time at the end of 1968. Photography meant so much to us, included so much about life itself, that there was no real need to talk about our private lives. It was there already, inside photography.
We haven’t stopped talking about photography ever since these careless days at ‘La Cambre’. It went on at the race tracks where we’d take photographs for ‘Virage Auto’, at the darkroom a friend, Jacques Daune, had set up and where we spent hours processing and printing when we were not just fooling around, at Agence ‘VU’ which we both joined at its beginnings in 1986, and later, when our roads separated more often because the world is big and there are a lot of places to visit, a lot of stories to cover. It went on and on. Year after year. Unshakeable. Conversations to hold on to, through thick and thin.
They did not even stop the days after I took this picture of him, on December 12th. 2013, the last time I saw him, ill already. I didn’t have the guts to go and see him in February this year, didn’t want to risk seeing him diminished. I didn’t want to alter the memory I have of a person dismissing so much of what is useless, so uncompromising in his trade, so focused on the person he interacts with, so just and fair, so clear-sighted about the world around him, with opinions sharp as a knife which cuts but doesn’t make you bleed. I didn’t want to see all this constrained by illness.
Now that he is gone I continue to have these conversations with him. That’s what his photographs are there for. Thank you so much Michel.
The grenade attack of March 30th 1997 on Sam Rainsy’s Khmer Nation Party rally gathering a couple of hundred people in front of the National Assembly to denounce corruption and impunity was commemorated by the opposition CNRP at the stupa dedicated to the 16 people who died. On that day four grenades were thrown in the small crowd, injuring Sam Rainsy and over 100 demonstrators, but also children, street vendors.
Brigade 70, a special bodyguard unit trusted by Prime Minister Hun Sen, was for the first time deployed nearby, raising persistent suspicions with the opposition, and indeed by the FBI (Ron Abney, a US citizen, was seriously injured, prompting their investigation), that it wasn’t just there to monitor, as some witnesses testified the unit opened ranks to let the perpetrators escape.
Yesterday only 5 monks and 2 land rights activists showed up at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for the trial of 3 defrocked monks, including Seung Hay, accused of carrying ‘lethal weapons’ (flagpoles made of plastic). Today there were barely 50 people for the trial of 11 people, including CNRP’s Meach Sovannara and lad rights activist Pich Samnang, involved in the violent incidents which took place in November 2014 near ‘Freedom Park’.
For sure the opposition’s mojo is not in the streets anymore.
Today is ‘World water Day’. There isn’t that much of water on this planet. It is precious.
Time to revisit my story ‘Waters of Sahel’, probably my first ‘real’ story, shot between 1985 and 1987, but still relevant.
Follows is a short sample of 16. You can see the whole story HERE.